Home field throughout
Reynolds wraps up NL Central championship for Astros
Updated: Monday October 08, 2001 10:03 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Houston Astros forgot their late-season woes and clinched their fourth NL Central championship in five years on the final day of the season.
Shane Reynolds won his 100th career game Sunday as the Astros beat St. Louis 9-2, leaving the Cardinals with the wild-card spot.
"Clinching on the last day is very exciting," Reynolds said. "It is one of the highlights of my career."
The Astros have home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. They will open the first round at home Tuesday against East champion Atlanta.
"I think we beat Randy twice already, and last year when we faced Schilling we didn't beat him up but I think we beat him," outfielder Craig Paquette said. "So we're going to go in there pretty confident."
Houston and St. Louis already were assured playoff spots before the game, but the result in the regular-season finale decided the NL playoff matchups. They finished with identical 93-69 records, and the Astros won the division because of a head-to-head tiebreaker -- they went 9-7 against the Cardinals this year.
"There's a positive you can make out of just about any situation," manager Tony La Russa said. "Start with the propaganda about the Mets being a wild-card team and going to the World Series.
"All that stuff, you can dredge up for [Monday]. For today, you won't hear anybody celebrating."
The Astros, who had lost seven of eight before the season finale, won on a day that perhaps lacked a certain level of suspense. It was sold out, but mostly because it was the second of two Mark McGwire bobblehead doll giveaways.
Despite late-season pitching woes, Houston completed the largest turnaround in franchise history. The Astros were 72-90 last year and fourth in the Central.
The previous best single-season improvement was 18 games from 1997 to '98.
"We didn't pitch well last year and we did this year, if you want to simplify it," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "[Craig] Biggio played all year and he was hurt last year, [Billy] Wagner played all year and he was hurt last year."
St. Louis, a .500 team at the All-Star Game, was 50-26 after the break. The Cardinals won 17 of their last 22 games.
"To do what I did today in a game of this magnitude is a highlight of my career," said Hidalgo, who was 3-for-4. "I really wanted to do something to help the team win."
Hidalgo's 19th homer put the Astros ahead for good 2-1 in the second, Bagwell doubled off the right-field wall and scored on Lance Berkman's single in the sixth and Houston put it away with four runs in the seventh to chase Kile.
Biggio had an RBI double and scored on Julio Lugo's single before the two-run homer by Bagwell, who had two crucial throwing errors in the Cardinals' 10-6 victory Saturday.
The Astros had been outscored 55-29 in the previous eight games, giving up at least 10 runs three times.
Reynolds (14-11) scattered eight hits in 7 1/3 innings, with the only damage coming on J.D. Drew's 27th homer in the first. He gave up at least one hit in every inning, striking out one and walking none, and won five of his last six decisions.
"I really wanted this one," Reynolds said. "I came out ready to, and even though I gave up the home run to J.D., I felt good."
Kile, who entered the game second in the NL with a 2.90 ERA, allowed more runs than in any of his other 33 starts. He lasted 6 2/3 innings, giving up seven runs on 10 hits and finished with a 3.09 ERA.
"I got my butt kicked and let the guys down," Kile said. "That's what it boils down to."
McGwire flied out as pinch-hitter in the ninth, finishing at .187 with 29 homers, 64 RBIs and a whopping 118 strikeouts in 299 at-bats. He struck out all four at-bats Friday night and on Saturday said he would consider retiring after the season. He quickly left after Sunday's game without talking to reporters.
Notes: The Cardinals were 54-28 at home, tied for the most victories in franchise history. They played 82 home games because they made up a Florida rainout at Busch Stadium. ... St. Louis finished with attendance of 3,113,091, an average of more than 38,000 per game. ... Reynolds is 100-80 in 235 career starts. ... Hidalgo was 1-for-8 the first two games of the series.